Sunday, 6 February 2011

A short trip to Chester, January/February 2011.

We have two celebrations in January, Kathleen's birthday and our Wedding Anniversary. We usually have ourselves a few days away in a combined celebration.

Pre campervan days, we typically went to the Lake District, which is not too far at two hour drive from where we live. But since we have had the campervan, we have usually used that to have a week or so "away".

January in England is not what you would typically describe as good camping weather, particularly if you remember we are "comfort campers", ie more the cosy glass of wine than sitting wrapped in a sleeping bag to keep the cold at bay. 

The normal plan is to choose a campsite near a town or city which can provide some interest if the weather is poor, but is also near nice countryside if it happens to be mild and dry, which can happen.

This year I picked on Chester, I don't know why, except I had not been there before, and good old google told me it had a well preserved city centre, with intact town walls, with plenty of pubs and restaurants (so that was the poor weather possibilty taken care of), whilst nearby the Shropshire Union Canal wound through pretty countryside (providing easy walking or cycling in case it was good weather).

Sunday 30th January 2011

We set off on a damp and dreary morning, typical January day in northern England. But by the time we have arrived at the Caravan Club Chester Fairoaks caravan site, the  sun was shining and it was a crisp bright winters afternoon.

As always, the Club site was of an excellent standard, and, given the time of year, we were surprised to find it was reasonably well populated. Nowhere near full, but at least fifty other couples had braved the January weather to be here.

We spend the rest of the daylight hours visiting the information room at reception, and exploring the immediate area on foot.

Monday 31st January 2011

Today is our wedding Anniversary.

The plan is to cycle along the canal into Chester and explore.

It is dry, but bitterly cold.

Kathleen is determined to prove she is 24 and not 64, so off we go along the canal.

It is so cold much of the surface of the canal is covered in ice.

We see very few other people, most people have more sense than to be out cycling in temperatures like these.

The cycling is quite easy of course, reasonably flat and the towpath whilst not very wide is in a reasonably good state of repair. The main problem is the bridges.

The modern ones, which have been built since the canal was constructed towards the end of the 1700's, are fine, they give plenty of space, but the original bridges like the one shown here, have a very narrow section of tow path as you pass underneath. That combined with the ice which is sometimes present can be a little scary, I would not want to end up in the canal even on a sunny day, but definately not on a freezing day like today.

Before setting off, we had consulted the Ordnance Survey Map for the area, and of course read the information leaflets provided at the site.

Basically we knew that Chester was about four miles away. But that was by road. The canal follows the contours of the land, to minimise the locks required, rather than the most direct route.

 After we had been peddling for about a mile, we passed a sign which read "Chester 6 miles". Kathleen does not usually bother herself with reading signs, I decided a diplomatic silence was called for and kept this information to myself.

The number of photographs dries up now for a while, this is becuase my fingers were numb almost to my elbows, I could not operate the camera.

But, credit where credit is due, not a word of complaint from Kathleen as she bravely peddled on.

Before long we arrive at Chester, what an impressive place, the canal goes right under the old city walls.

It is a cycle friendly place and we find a cycle rack and park the bikes then find a place to eat.

Hot soup, and hot coffee, heaven, circulation returns to the hands!

Having warmed ourselves up, we have a quick look around, the plan being we will return tomorrow (on the bus) for a longer visit.

It really is freezing cold, even the modern covered shopping centre feels like a fridge inside!

Soon we are back on our bikes pedaling back towards the campsite, taking note of the numbers on the bridges as we go, so that we know when we are back where we started.

It is now mid afternoon, and the sun is just breaking through the cloud, the temperature has, I think, just struggled above zero.

We even take a rest on a seat by the canal.

As is common, the seat is in memory of someone who has died in the past.

As you can see, he was a Project Engineer on the canal, and assuming the dates given are his dates of birth and death, rather than the dates of his employment (which I assume they are), the poor chap had a very short life, only 40 years.

As is usually the case, we seem to get back, much more quickly than we went, having cycled 15 miles there and back.

A hot shower, and  turn on the heating is the order of the day now.

In the evening, we walk along to the nearest pub (The Rake), it is not to our liking. Apologies to those of you with children, but it is a "Wacky Warehouse" type place with a play area and lots of children running around. Not what we want for our "Anniversary Meal". So we walk on to the Harvester on the A5117 and have a very enjoyable meal.

Then back to the van and settle down with the heating on, the iPod playing our favourite music and Kathleen in her favourite pose, ie stretched on the sofa with a glass of wine.

We do not usually bother with Television when we are away in the van, but this time I decided to try receiving television on the computer.

So far not a success. Problem is, this site, unusually for a Caravan Club site does not have ariel sockets in the hook up bollards, so using the digital television usb dongle I bought before leaving home, I can get a good picture, but no sound! I will keep trying and let you know how I get on.

Tuesday 1st February 2011

It is milder with a little sun, but we are not tempted to repeat the experience of cycling along the canal.

Instead we walk the half mile or so to the Chester Oaks Retail park and catch the bus into Chester.

Being "pensioners" of course we have a "free" bus pass each. This particularly adds to Kathleen's enjoyment, since like most women she likes to think she is getting a "bargain", and what better bargain can you get than to get something "free"?.

Having arrived in Chester, I get first choice of what to do (there will be a pay back I know). I opt to do the walk around the city walls.

The first thing Kathleen spots as we walk along, is a house in a street called "Albion Street". This is apparently the street where her grandmother lived, not here of course but in slightly less attractive Jarrow.

On the other side of the street is a pub called "The Albion" which has an amusing "Customer Notice" outside. It basically says "We don't do fast food, only good food. No thanks, we do not want your children running wild in here"

Shortly afterwards we pass an area called "The Roman Garden".

From the internet, I know there is supposed to be the remains of a Roman Ampitheatre here, I have to admit we do not find it, something to save for next time. Because already we are warming to this place and discussing the possibility of a return trip later in the year.

The walk around the walls is very pleasant, the walls are lower than in medieval times, but still raised enough to give you a good view as you walk along.

Eventually we come to the River Dee, as it flows past the walls.

This is the least well preserved part of the walls, and for short distances they disappear completely, partly because over the years the course of the river has actually changed.

Behind the University Building, much of the original Castle appears to be intact.

Although it is all closed down in winter, it is clear there are lots of fun things to do here in the summer months, with cruises along the river and riverside eating places to visit.

On we go, past the race course, and the well preserved walls reappear.

Eventually we cross the canal at the point we entered Chester yesterday on our bicycles.

As I say, we passed this place yesterday, at the time I did wonder at the purpose of the large basin and locks, but now I can see it is (was?) a mechanism to transfer boats between the Shropshire Union Canal and the River Dee.

It is not all that apparent from the photograph, but the River (with boats) on the left of the photograph is at a considerably lower level than the canal.

We are now almost at the Cathederal and not far from our starting point.

The Cathederal is impressive from the outside, and probably from the inside too, it is supposed to have some of the best wood carvings in Europe.

But, you have to pay to go in, this offends Kathleen's Catholic sensibilities (she says you should not have to pay to enter God's House).

The Catholics may have built the place, but I don't think they have had a say in it's running for the last 400+ years, thanks to Henry viii.

Although the whole place is well preserved, I am fairly sure these Tudor style houses are not original, they are too straight for a start!

At least the development has been done in keeping with the original style of the place.

Soon we are back at Eastgate, where an ornate clock tower stands, and we are in the city centre, the walls still pass quite high above the shopping street below.

This walkway is actually on the town wall complete with shops built into the wall.

Not a good photograph of the clock I am afraid, dare I say this in England, in January, but too much sun.

The medieval covered walkways with shops set back from the street are still well preserved and in use with a variety of shops and eating places in them.

These I am told (Google again!, what would I do without it, more housework, or even some housework is Kathleen's answer) are called "The Rows".

You will recall at the beginning, I said I was given the choice of what to do.

Now, Kathleen offers to buy my lunch, there is definately going to be a payback.

But, make hay while the sun shines I always say, so I enjoy my lunch in a pleasant little cafe in "The Rows", and enjoy it even more when Kathleen's debit card is brought into action.

Now of course the pay back comes. We have to go shopping, probably my least favourite passtime.

My first thought is "I will buy a newspaper and disappear to a convenient park bench or even a pub". I know this will suit Kathleen, since she does not enjoy shopping with me in tow, unless she can get me to pay for things!

Chester however seems to have a dearth of Newsagents, we wander through the whole shopping centre, Top Shop, M & S, Next, River Island etc etc (don't they have all this in Newcastle?) and I do not see a single Newsagent.

I am saved by Kathleen's boots, they begin to hurt her feet (good buy those what?), so we head for the bus station, and back to the campsite.

Wednesday 2nd February 2011

I get to choose what to do in the morning, the afternoon is reserved for (yet) more shopping at the Chester Oaks Retail Park / Outlet Centre, can't wait.

So in the morning we walk the mile or so to the canal and set off in the opposite direction to Chester, ie towards Ellesmere Port.

Ellesmere Port is nothing to write home about, more or less on a par with Jarrow I would say, perhaps not even that good.

The Shropshire Union Canal joins up with the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port, more or less at the junction, there is a Boat Museum. This is our destination.

When we arrive we find that at this time of year it is only open at weekends, this of course is a Wednesday.

The museum is run by National Waterways, which I assume, like British Waterways is a Quango. 

In the way only such organisations can manage to waste money, the whole place is open, including snack bar, and it would appear fully staffed with nice helpful people. But, they are not open to the public so do not take our £4 entry fee. A very helpful young man does allow us to have a wander around (for free), and Kathleen even manages to appear enthusiastic about a collection of steam and diesel engines.

In the snack bar, I have the biggest bacon sandwich I have ever had for £2-90.

We walk it to Ellesmere Port Town Centre, find the bus station and get the bus (free again, Kathleen loves that) to Chester Oaks Retail Park/Outlet Centre.

It is massive. Some potentially interesting places like a Bosse shop, and a Toshiba shop, but the afternoon is Kathleen's so it is M&S, Next, River Island etc etc you get the picture, success at last one item of clothing (a top) is bought.

Thursday 3rd February 2011

We have a leisurely breakfast and head for home.

So far we have had a good time, except for the cold, but you cannot help the weather in England, it just is what it is.

We get almost home, on the A1(M), north of the A690 at Durham and south of Chester-le-Street, when we get a puncture. Not a pleasant experience in a campervan I discover. By the time I have pulled onto the hard shoulder the tyre is shredded, this is going to be expensive I think.

Undaunted, we phone the breakdown service (Saga, who else for two oldies like us), and settle down to eat a sandwich while we wait for the breakdown truck to arrive.

Kathleen is a model of patience.

About fifteen minutes after the initial call, we get a call from a garage in Sedgefield to confirm our position and to say they will be with us asap. Sure enough 30 minutes later a very helpful young chap arrives, decides he can change the wheel where we are rather than loading us up and taking us off the motorway (health and safety and all that), and soon we are on our way again.

A bit of a dampener at the end, still have not checked how much a new tyre is going to be, but it has not spoiled our outing, a good time was had by all.

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